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Juneteenth Reflections

This past Saturday, June 19, the nation celebrated Juneteenth, an annual holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in our country. On June 19, 1865, enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas were told they were finally free. Juneteenth carries a special significance as the day we moved one step closer to honoring the promise originally set forth in the Constitution: equality and justice for all. Yet although it has long been celebrated within the African American community, this event remained largely unknown to most Americans until recent years. The deaths of unarmed Black citizens such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among others, and the subsequent protests over police brutality that engulfed the country last summer, sparked a renewed interest and commitment to the significance of this day in its full historic legacy. On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth finally became a national holiday officially recognized by the federal government.

But Juneteenth is also so much more than just a significant date or a historic turning point. It is a symbol of hope and achievement; it signifies camaraderie and exuberance and magnifies the stories of people who have been suppressed and silenced for far too long. The true beauty of Juneteenth lies in the individuals who partake in it, whose voices and energy work to uplift their communities in celebration. Of course, the fact that Juneteenth is now a national holiday and has been given the recognition and legitimacy it deserves does not in any way invalidate or negate the work that still needs to be done. Violence and discrimination are still fresh wounds in the hearts of our African American community - and indeed in all of our hearts. Systemic issues and institutionalized inequities will take persistent and dedicated work to overcome. There are battles still left to be fought. But for now, there is a sense of hope and community - and that’s something I think everyone needs, especially after the tough year we’ve had. It feels like the world is waking up again, and the liveliness and vitality that once filled our streets is slowly coming back. We are coming back.

I was able to experience the spirit of Juneteenth firsthand this past weekend in Trenton. It was my first time visiting the city, and the vivacity I witnessed was both invigorating and inspiring. People came together to celebrate, protest, discuss and connect. Being in the middle of that energy as a representative of Homeworks gave me the chance to see the community up close, rather than abstractly through a computer screen, and reminded me of the work that’s being done at Homeworks to impact the Trenton community, as well as the tangible effects of that work. I came away with a newfound sense of commitment to the mission and values of social justice that Homeworks strives to emulate and spread.

Darae Grizzle, one of our scholars, was also touched by the vibrance of the celebration. She said, “Juneteenth was such a beautiful event that showed how strong the Trenton community is. All of the performances were so powerful and the energy from the crowd just felt so uplifting. I truly felt proud of my community and those in it. It was a day filled with support, and most importantly, love.” Serina Montero, one of our house sisters, echoed Darae’s sentiments, saying that for her the Juneteenth event was a reminder of the strength and beauty of the Trenton community: “Since the pandemic hit this was the first community event that I attended. It reinvigorated me because it reminded me of all the organization and activism in the community that I knew about and it showed me new instances of people who are creating and organizing in the community. From seeing old coaches to colleagues to high school friends it was nice to reground myself in the community and all the beauty, joy and love that it has and always had.”

Even as a new member to the community and to Homeworks, I felt, for those few hours, like I was part of something bigger, like the community had welcomed me with open arms to share in this experience. The voices and the stories highlighted today, however, extend beyond the individual to the collective. As each of us sang and chanted along to the music that resounded throughout the streets, it felt as if we were singing with one voice.

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